Review: Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare, William F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless (Foreword by Thom Rainer). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019.

Summary: A biblical and theological survey of all the passages in the Bible concerning Satan and spiritual warfare and practical applications for the life of the church.

William Cook and Chuck Lawless make both a biblical and practical case for the reality of spiritual warfare, the personal forces of evil who seek to undermine and oppose the life of followers of Christ, as well as keep in darkness those who have not come to faith. In this work they provide a comprehensive guide for believers to understanding the warfare we are in the midst of.

First of all, they survey all the relevant Old and New Testament that refer to Satan and his forces and spiritual warfare. They provide concise explanations of each passage, offering different readings of difficult passages like 1 Peter 3:18-22, and giving their own interpretation. From the early chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation, they give the account of Satan’s efforts to oppose the purposes of God from the temptation of the Adam and Eve to the final defeat and destruction of Satan. What they make clear is that while the forces of darkness deceive and tempt and oppose, human sin is our own willful disobedience to God. What is fascinating is that the New Testament portion of this survey is four times as long as the Old Testament, particularly with the testing of Jesus, the confrontations with demons throughout the gospels and Acts, the spiritual opposition aroused as the church moves into the Gentile world, and the warfare of the book of Revelation of the dragon and the beast against the people of God and the final defeat of Satan.

The second half of the book draws on this material and applies this to our personal and corporate lives as believers. They begin with how spiritual warfare manifests in the local church, defining both the pillars of a healthy church and the lines of attack on each of these. They speak of the warfare against evangelism, blinding unbelievers to truth and rendering believers ineffective through sin, discouragement, pride, and fear that shuts our mouths. They talk about the remedy of prayer for “GOD’S HEART” (an acronym). They extend this line of discussion into mission and the disinterest, division, and distraction that needs to be countered with teaching and humble dependence. They look at attacks on the family and conclude with the warfare against leaders, addressing why many finish badly. Since many who read this book are likely to be leaders, this is one chapter not to be skipped but to be read, to be used in self-examination and spiritual accountability.

Over and over throughout this book, the authors focus on the dangers of pride, self-reliance, divisions between believers, and biblical illiteracy. At the same time, the authors emphasize the greatness of God, the victory of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, all enabling believers to overcome and prevail by faith.

This book is a useful source book for anyone teaching on spiritual warfare, combining a thorough survey of scripture with practical applications grounded in years of pastoral experience. It steers a healthy balance that both recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare, and the reality that, in the victory of the cross and resurrection, Satan and his forces have been decisively defeated and the believer provided with all he or she needs for life and godliness.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: A Cold Red Sunrise

a cold red sunrise

A Cold Red Sunrise (Porfiry Rostnikov #5), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012.

Summary: After making enemies in the Kremlin, a demoted Porfiry Rostnikov is sent to Siberia to solve the murder of a Russian official, while others are working to undermine Rostnikov, and prevent a solution to the murder.

A Russian commissar had been sent to Tumsk in Siberia to investigate the suspicious circumstances behind the suspicious death of a dissident doctor’s daughter, a dissident soon to leave for the West. On the way to a hearing in the early morning hours, he is killed by a mysterious killer who stabs him through the eye with an icicle.

Porfiry Rostnikov has been demoted after offending enemies in the Kremlin in the pursuit of justice. Working with two younger assistants, Emil Karpo and Sasha Tkach, who have followed him into the backwater of solving low-level crimes, they work to stem the efforts of theft rings and thugs harassing locals. That is, until Rostnikov is assigned to investigate the death of Commissar Rutkin in far off Tumsk in Siberia. Karpo accompanies him, order by the KGB to report back on the case. Another official goes along as well to observe him. Tumsk is where they send exiles and it can be wondered if it will become Rostnikov’s home.

He methodically pursues his work, interviewing and befriending the ex-priest Galich, the exiled general Krasnikov, who is furiously working on a secret manuscript, and Dr. Samsonov and his attractive wife Ludmilla. He and Karpo interview Mrasnikov, the aged caretaker of the People’s Hall. He saw something but fears to speak. For some reason, he is only allowed to investigate the Commissar’s death, even though he suspects that death is connected to the death of Samsonov’s daughter

Rostnikov only has a few days to solve the case, made more urgent by news that his wife is facing a life-threatening condition requiring brain surgery. Between interviews, he works out with weights, and thinks. But what moves things forward is an attempt on his life that results in the serious wounding of the old man Mrasnikov. The killer has been careless. And Rostnikov knows it.

This mystery won an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1989. The layered plot, with what is going on behind the scenes against Rostnikov, and with the KGB, the relations Rostnikov forms with everyone around him from his fellow detectives, and even the potential suspects, and the “presence” of Rostnikov as events come to their culmination all contribute to a great read. Many fictional detectives fight not only crime but the system. Soviet Russia in the 1980’s offers a unique setting, but confronts Rostnikov with the risks of cynicism or bitterness many detectives face. The Rostnikov character is striking as one with a calling to fight crime, a knowledge of the criminal mind, of the possibilities and limits of his situation, and someone utterly secure with himself.

I hope you get to know him.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Gorant Chocolatier (Gorant Candies)

Gorants on Federal street

The original Gorant store on Federal street.

Chocolate is one of the languages of love. This is Valentine’s weekend and reminded me of a name synonymous with good chocolate. If you grew up in Youngstown, Gorant Candies was probably the place when you went to buy chocolate for the holidays, for your special Valentine, for a birthday, for Mother’s Day, or just to satisfy your chocolate craving. Chocolate covered strawberries, assortments of milk and dark chocolates, chocolate pecan tootles, milk chocolate raspberry parfaits, French mints, chocolate covered pretzels, cherry cordials, and of course–buckeyes!

Is your mouth watering yet? Well, Gorant Chocolatier is still in business and you can order chocolate at their website. You can also visit one of their five locations, all in the greater Youngstown area. If at all possible, you want to visit the factory and store at 8301 Market Street in Boardman. The smell of the chocolate is to die for!

It all began in 1949 with two brothers, Charles and Sam Gorant. They began not with chocolate but with sugar mints that they sold door to door. They opened a store on Federal Street between McKelvey’s and Strouss and sold them in both downtown department stores. By 1954 they had three stores and had moved into the chocolate business. An individual who remains anonymous to this day sold them his recipe along with chocolate making equipment.

In 1972, they launched their Yum Yum Tree stores selling gifts and greeting cards in addition to candy, many in the new shopping malls springing up around the country. In 1977, they opened their manufacturing plant on Market Street. The company history notes that all the candies are still poured on tables and cut by hand. The Gorant brothers philosophy was expressed in this statement: “If the work is done by hand you can catch the imperfections and ensure the quality of all the chocolates before they are packed.”

Sam Gorant died in 1982. Charles sold the company in 1986, and it changed hands several times, eventually owned by Cleveland’s American Greeting Card Company which sold the product in 500 of their stores and through another 200 wholesale accounts. In 2009, American Greetings sold off Gorant, closing 34 stores, to Joe Miller, who at this writing is still the owner of the company, now renamed Gorant Chocolatier. At the time of the sale, they went from an $11 million to a $3 million company.

While the company has a smaller retail presence than it once had, they have expanded their sales to private label customers, fund-raising, mail order and internet business. They’ve streamlined inventory, manufacturing, and cost control processes and gained SQF certification for food safety that expands Gorant Chocolatier’s global marketing possibilities.

About 50 people work at the factory and store year round with extra employees during the peak season from September through April. While the company has changed ownership and marketing strategy, they continue not only making their chocolates by hand out of the best ingredients. Over the course of the year they produce 400 different chocolate products.

Recently, my wife and I stayed at the Inn at Amish Door in Wilmot, Ohio. It is part of an “Amish village” with a restaurant, banquet, bakery, and store complex with a number of special events. We delighted in the quality construction, comfortable lodging, and great food we enjoyed during a short, overnight stay. While researching this post, I discovered that previous to purchasing Gorant, Joe Miller was Vice Chairman and President of the Amish Door company, started and still operated by his parents, and helped develop the complex into a major attraction in the quiet village of Wilmot. One hopes that he will continue to lead Gorant Chocolatier in the same way.

Reading for Human Flourishing

Matthias_stom_young_man_reading_by_candlelight

Young Man Reading By Candelight, by Matthias Stom — Holland, Public Domain

Last week, I reviewed a new book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Dr. Francis Su. Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to facilitate a conversation with him. One of the observations I’m thinking about from his presentation was that we often talk about math in terms of educational success and job skills. Rarely do we talk about how math answers to deep human desires and cultivates the virtues that enable us to flourish. It occurs to me that we often talk about reading in similar ways to math: important to educational success and good jobs.

No question that this is true. But I wonder if that is all we focus on, we miss some of the things that foster flourishing readers–children and adults who not only can read, but find that reading makes us more fully human. Reading connects to deep human desires and cultivates virtues, as does math.

“Tell me a story.” Human beings are story-shaped creatures. We love stories–hearing them, telling them, living them and making sense out of our lives through stories. Some of the very best stories have been written down in books, and we often find ourselves within those stories.

Reading fosters imagination. The words on the page become images in our minds, so powerful and real, that we are often disappointed that movie adaptations are not nearly as good as the story we’ve imagined. Imagination enables us to envision what is and what could be, and to capture the imaginations of others.

I learn to empathize with those whose experiences I may not have shared. I am neither a woman nor a person of color or a resident of any number of countries. I will never fully understand the experience of any of these. But reading their narratives with a openness to their lived experience  can help me understand a little better, or at least show me how much I don’t know, which is also progress.

Reading builds human connection, whether between a parent and child, or two friends who discover they both like a particular writer or series of books and love to talk about them together. Sometimes our differences in taste are interesting. Why someone liked something that left us cold or vice versa can be offer insight into ourselves or others.

Sometimes we have genuine questions about something we just don’t understand, whether it is the history of our home town, how to repair our car, or the fabric of the cosmos. Reading can enrich our understanding of our world, and empower us to engage more effectively with it.

Reading causes us to reflect on the human condition. What is admirable? What is despicable? And what kind of person do I want to be? How have people faced adversity? What makes the difference between those who become bitter and those who become better?

And lest we get too serious, reading can be fun. Silly rhymes can make us laugh. Stories can amuse us and bring us joy.

I wonder whether in the press to pass standardized reading tests, our children may miss the opportunity to discover these humanizing aspects of reading, that also make reading deeply satisfying. I also can’t help but wonder if parents and educators who are in touch with these deeply human longings and weave them into their practice will educate more highly motivated readers.

 

 

Review: Brave New Medicine

brave new medicine

Brave New MedicineCynthia Li, MD. Oakland: Reveal Press, 2019.

Summary: When a physician trained in internal medicine experiences a debilitating autoimmune illness that the medical establishment couldn’t heal, she pursues a journey addressing both body and mind that allow her body to heal.

Cynthia Li was proud of her training in medicine. After surviving a tragic loss, she marries David and begins a family. And with the birth of her first child her own health begins to unravel because of an autoimmune illness beginning with her thyroid, an illness where her immune system attacked her body–a racing heart, sleeplessness, loss of energy and a host of other symptoms that left her unable to get off the couch. She had become the “difficult patient.” There seemed to be neither cause nor remedy that doctors who shared her training could find. She struggled through a second pregnancy, with tensions in the marriage growing.

The book traces her journey toward healing that began with asking a new question, “how to get off the couch?” She began with her sleeplessness by addressing her daily rhythms and sleep rituals. She gives herself permission to receive and become part of a community of support. She discovers the importance of daily doses of nature. She recognizes that toxins in her home and her body can contribute to inflammatory responses and takes steps to detoxify. She learns to pay attention to intuition for what to work on next. She discovers the connection between mental states and gene expression and learns the importance of moving from flight or fight stress to “rest and digest” states that heal rather than inflame tissue.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters was the one on learning to inhabit your body. She recognizes how we are often disconnected and out of touch with our own bodies. She found a great deal of help through meditative techniques, qiqong practice, and acupuncture to harness and release the power of qi. She mentions in passing weird occurrences in her home as she was engaged in these practices, and this raised a red flag for me. As a Christian, I believe in a God in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and in whose presence and power we are strengthened both spiritually and bodily. I also believe there are influences not of God that may be malign. I think there is a larger conversation to be had about mind-body meditative practices than can be had in this review, and the need for spiritual discernment in their practice. None of this is to question the experience of Dr. Li, nor the importance of reconnecting mind and body.

She also discovered what many are discovering–that our gut health, the biological mix of organisms in our intestinal tract–can be out of whack.  She practiced and proposed a 30 day reset diet and ongoing dietary practices to address this. She found the importance of breaking old habits that no longer serve one well. It has often been said that “laughter is the best medicine” and she discovered how important play and laughter are in improving our immune function. She started investigating hidden root causes behind chronic conditions, especially food allergies and stealth infections like the Epstein-Barr virus. Having experienced loss, she learned how to “bring grief out of the shadows.” Finally, she learned that in coming out of chronic illness, it was important to reclaim one’s purpose and find and tell one’s story.

She summarizes this journey in fifteen steps of “how to get off the couch.” After the narrative, she includes a section with practical advice and websites for following the fifteen steps, practices she has now integrated into her own medical practice.

This work is a gentle but powerful critique of Western medical practice. She notes the pressure of fifteen minute patient visits, the shortcuts taken in listening to patient histories that may ignore childhood traumas and family histories that may be at the root of health problems, the over-reliance on lab panels that can come back normal even when there are real problems.  She observes the neglect of the factors learned in medical school that contribute over time to disease and our definitions of “health,” our neglect of the connections between mind and body, and the importance of seeing patients as whole people, and the importance of what our bodies are exposed to and what we put in them.

More importantly, Cynthia Li articulates a whole-life approach to health, nearly all of which happens outside doctors offices. It addresses how we eat, sleep, work, and play, and the environments within which we live, and our relationships with other human beings. Her book reminds us that before what we do, we are human be-ings. She explores how we “be” healthy, something no doctor may do for us, but can only do with us.

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Disclaimer: This review, like the book, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, which if needed, should be sought from a trained professional.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 

 

Review: Opening the Red Door

opening the red door

Opening the Red DoorJohn A. Bernbaum. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: An inside account by a founder and President of the Russian-American Christian University, from the surprise invitation received from Russian leadership to its closing.

The period of 1989-1990 was a heady time as the Iron Curtain fell and country after country overturned Communist leadership and talked of embracing democracy. Then the changes came to the Soviet Union itself under Gorbachev and Yeltsin as glasnost and perestroika gave way to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the spinning off of republics as autonomous nations, leaving Russia, a large, but much diminished country, struggling to convert from a command to some version of a capitalist economy, and failing miserably in the effort.

This book originates in that era. A group of Christian college leaders with the Christian College Coalition (now the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) who had ties with evangelical mission efforts to Eastern Europe sought to discern what opportunities this might present to build ties of understanding and opportunities for Christian influence in a country that had been officially atheist since 1917. They determined to explore possibilities for student study and cultural exchanges during a 1990 visit when a more daring proposal came from a Russian governmental official. Please come and set up a faith-based university in Russia!

John Bernbaum, then a vice president with the Christian College Coalition, was part of this delegation and was tasked to follow up this proposal, a task that eventually led to his presidency of the Russian-American Christian University (later the Russian-American Institute). In this work, he offers a first-person account of the history of this initiative from the initial proposal to the decision to close the doors years later.

Bernbaum traces this history from working groups to a joint Russian-American and the first classes in 1994-1995. He recounts the beginnings from agreements and charters, setting up tax exempt status in the US and gaining licenses in Russia. He describes the expansion of the program from initial English Language programs to a full program of undergraduate courses and the first graduation in 2001 (of 19 students). He traces the various moves to different temporary facilities and the nearly ten year process from 2001 to 2010 in securing land, gaining permits, building, and gaining occupancy permits for their own academic facility and the “perfect storm” that led to the closure of the Russian American Institute in 2011 and the sale of its building in 2014. It is a narrative of a both extraordinary and less than perfect Russian-American partnership.

The external events in Russia were critical to this history, as the initially open and supportive relationship with the Yeltsin government gave way to the Putin era, and an increasing chilling of American-Russian relations, coupled with increasing suspicion of any American effort in Russia. At first this manifested in community opposition and bureaucratic delays culminating in a reclassification of their tax status increasing annunal taxes from $2,000 to $500,000 coupled with a refusal of reaccreditation.

The brightest spot in the narratives are the descriptions of the students and their eager welcome and embrace of instruction by a joint American and Russian faculty. We also see how forming deep relationships of integrity with Russian officials overcame many barriers until political pressure became too great. This was matched by the generosity of Bernbaum’s American partners.

The deep regret of course was that international relations finally made it impossible to continue this effort. The narrative offers evidence that the students who came through the program, the many faculty from both countries who taught in the program, and the student exchanges and programs in English and Russian that were formed, built bridges of understanding and equipped a cohort of students with a Christian vision for their work in Russia. One hopes this is a kind of “mustard seed conspiracy” that will one day bear great fruit in Russia, and in American relations with that great country. One also hopes and prays that the spiritual hunger that originated this initiative will be sustained and grow.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Our Good Crisis

our good crisis

Our Good CrisisJonathan K. Dodson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming March 17, 2020.

Summary: Underlying the various crises of our culture is a moral crisis, a crisis of good into which the virtues of the Beatitudes can speak, leading to moral flourishing.

Sexual assault and other misdeeds. Financial misdealing. Political divisiveness. Consumerism that is consuming the planet. Jonathan K. Dodson contends that underlying all of these crises is a moral crisis. A crisis of good. Dodson speaks from experience. He grabs our attention in the opening words of this book:

   I picked up the phone and said hello.

   “Jonathan, this is Amy.” I hadn’t spoken to my old girlfriend since she’d moved to Alaska a decade ago.

   “Well, okay. I’ve been meaning to call you for a long time. I need to tell you something. When we were dating, I got pregnant and had an abortion. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it. I just felt like it would send you on a different path, away from ministry, so I kept it to myself.”

Our crisis of good reflects that we live in a context where we no longer clearly know what is the good, nor are learning the virtues that lead to virtue, to acting with integrity in personal and public settings. For Dodson, the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, offer a pathway to grow in the virtues that lead to goodness and foster our moral flourishing.

Dodson devotes a chapter to each of the beatitudes. In an age of self, “the big me,” poverty of spirit grasps our bankruptcy before God, how desperately we fall short of his righteousness, that brings us into the kingdom and a humility that becomes a gift to others. We live in an age of distraction that diverts us from the mourning that brings real comfort and not mere diversion. Meekness calls us out of a culture of comparing with others how big of piece of the world’s pie of glory we are getting. Instead, the meek inherit God and all that is in Him. We move in a culture of expedient values rather than being rooted in the righteousness of God that pursues justice for all and not just ourselves.

Dodson goes on in succeeding chapters to discuss mercy in an age of tolerance, purity in an age of self-expression, peacemaking in an age of outrage, and persecution in an age of comfort. One thing I thought he nailed with regard to peacemaking, was how often we are either more concerned about being right than making peace or more concerned about keeping a superficial peace to tell the truth about grievances that are coming between us.

Dodson weaves three helpful elements through his discussions: astute cultural analysis that relates to each of the Beatitudes, elaboration of the meaning of the Beatitude, and helpful practical examples of how the moral goodness of each of these Beatitudes might be expressed in our lives. Each chapter concludes with several reflection questions.

We are in an age of moral outrage coupled with a lack of moral compass. Even in the church, we mobilize around moral crusades while an onlooking world is disgusted with our moral hypocrisy. Dodson both diagnoses our moral crisis, and offers the Beatitudes as our course of treatment.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: City on a Hill

City on a Hill

City on a Hill: A History of American ExceptionalismAbram C. Van Engen. New Haven: Yale University Press, Forthcoming, February 25, 2020.

Summary: A history of Governor John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, and how the phrase “city on a hill” from the sermon became the metaphor for American exceptionalism.

On April 8, 1630, the Arbella stood off Massachusetts Bay, part of a fleet of Puritan-filled ships organized as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with John Winthrop elected as their first governor. Governor Winthrop preached a sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity” that called upon the company to embrace the virtue of charity in the community they would found, a mutual care for each other. He concluded with this peroration describing the consequence of such charity:

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

As significant as the sermon would later become, it appears it was more or less forgotten in the concerns of settlement. It’s survival in handwritten manuscript form is a story in itself. In fact, it was forgotten for two hundred years, and only came into political parlance in the 1960’s when the “city on the hill” portion was first quoted by John F. Kennedy. In succeeding years it would turn up in the speeches of nearly every American president. Until President Trump.

Abram C. Van Engen traces the fascinating story of this sermon from its beginnings to the present in his new work, City on a Hill. He considers its initial import as a call to loving community among the Puritans. He follows the history of the manuscript, how it existed in obscurity among papers from the colony’s early years. He profiles archivists like Jeremy Belknap at Harvard and Ebenezer Hazard in New York, who passionately, tirelessly, and often at personal cost collected and contributed these materials at some of the earliest examples of the preservation of historical materials in Harvard and at the New York Historical Society. It was in New York that the sermon was stored, but not noticed for many years.

Van Engen considers the decision to center this historical archival work around the Puritans, rather than earlier arrivals to North America–the Pilgrims, the Dutch in New York, the Jamestown settlers, the French, the Spanish, and the Native peoples. The account was a New England account, a religious account focused on God’s providence. It shaped first the New England consciousness, and then a wider American consciousness, even while the sermon, apart from brief notice in the 1830’s continued to be ignored. He explores why it remained obscure as a lengthy sermon as opposed to a concise statement like the Mayflower Compact.

He then introduces the scholars that brought this Puritan heritage to national notice from Weber to Perry Miller to his successor Sacvan Bercovitch. An striking part of this account are his chapters on Perry Miller, who was concerned about the materialism that arose from Puritan values, and held up “A Model of Christian Charity” as the epitome of the spiritual values that even atheist Miller wanted to see embraced, incorporating it into anthologies used in teaching American history. I hope some day Van Engen follows up with a full-length study of Miller, a brilliant and tragic figure.

Miller’s work was the likely source of Kennedy’s use. Van Engen then follows its usage through successive presidents, culminating in Ronald Reagen who more than anyone appropriated the image for the country’s exceptionalist destiny, no where more movingly than his Farewell Address on January 11, 1989:

The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the shining “city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim – an early “Freedom Man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace – a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

As Van Engen concludes this book, he notes President Trump’s lack of use of this language and contends that it represents a significant shift from rhetoric focused around American ideals to American interests. He argues that our current president focuses not on what makes us exceptional but on what we have in common with all nations–that we put our interests first. The vision of exceptionalism is one of being first. Van Engen wonders whether this shift in rhetoric is a longer term shift or one confined to this administration, acknowledging the flaws in each approach.

This is an important work in so many ways, from tracing the sermon’s origins and after history, to the ways the sermon has been misappropriated, ignoring the body of Winthrop’s appeal, to exploring the ways a focus on Puritan origins has blinded us to other aspects of the American story–the Native peoples, African slaves, settlement in other parts of the country, and the ways the religious focus of the message has been transformed into a founding document of America’s civil religion.

Within this narrative, Van Engen also highlights both the significant contribution and blind spots of archivists and curators in American historiography. Van Engen shows how our histories are shaped by what is collected. In the process, Van Engen also faces us with crucial questions of the substance of the rhetoric we use to describe our sense of national purpose and character at a time where we may be witnessing a sea change in that sense.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Simon Family

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Simon Homestead, photo courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele.

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. I wrote last week about Elijah Boardman, the Connecticut senator and Western Reserve investor after whom Boardman township was named. I received a comment from an descendant of another early settler in Boardman township, who lived in the township nineteen years before Henry Mason Boardman made his home there. The family owned a farm that extended from Midlothian Boulevard to Indianola Road, and from Southern Boulevard to South Avenue. Lake Park Cemetery was originally their family cemetery, eventually donated to the community. Simon Road is named after them. The family is the Simon family.

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Simon Family in July 1914, image courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele

Michael Simon, who was born in 1741, moved to Boardman township in 1800, purchasing 640 acres. He was the first to bring wheat into Boardman township and raise a wheat crop. He was married three times and had fifteen children and died in 1839. His fourth son Adam also moved to Boardman in 1800, and is listed as one of the original township trustees. Given the size of this family and multiplied by descendants, I cannot tell the story of the whole family. At an 1882 reunion, 172 blood relations were present as well as 75 others related through marriage. Bernice Simon, who died in 1997, compiled a Simon family history and genealogy, as well as other genealogies and lists of early residents in the Western Reserve. Bernice and her husband Howard donated many of their documents and artifacts to the Detchon House, located in Boardman Park.

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Drawing of Simon Homestead, early Boardman map, and Jesse Simon, Image courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele.

Michael’s grandson Jesse built the homestead that is still standing on Indianola Road, as are a number of other homes built by Simon family members in the area. Jesse’s grandson Clyde, and his wife Alpharetta Walters Simon, lived down the street. Clyde was an official at Home Savings and Loan, serving as assistant treasurer of the real estate division, contributing significantly to the residential growth of the Youngstown area. Alpharetta, as a young woman, taught in a one room school house, the Heasly School, on South Avenue, where many of the German children in the area learned to speak English.

Alpharetta Simon at Heasly School 1912

Alpharetta Walters Simon at the Heasly School in 1912, photo courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele

To this day, there is an area west of Simon Road and north of Indianola still referred to as “New England Lanes.” This was once part of the Simon farmland. In the 1950’s, Clyde and Alpharetta’s son Howard Simon (Bernice’s husband) was a home builder and president of the Youngstown Homebuilders Association. He built many of the homes in this area. After Bernice died in 1997, he moved to Lewis Center, Ohio (near Columbus) to live with his daughter Joanne Simon Tailele, who along with her daughter Candy, provided much of the information and photographs for this story. Howard Simon passed away in 2006.

The Simon family both made Boardman history and preserved it. They brought wheat farming to the area, taught area children, contributed to the residential growth of the area and then painstakingly documented both the family’s history and that of the area. This is one of the many family stories of Youngstown. One of the things I’ve loved about writing on Youngstown is that I keep discovering these stories, often from descendants of the people who made the stories. Through their character and hard work, they gave the Valley its history, and inspire us to continue it.

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Special thanks to Candy Cooper McDowell and Joanne Simon Tailele for the idea for this article, all the images used here, and much of the family history. Thank you for letting me share your story. Any inaccuracies are my responsibility.

Review: Mathematics for Human Flourishing

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Mathematics for Human FlourishingFrancis Su, with reflections by Christopher Jackson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

Summary: An argument for the value of mathematics in all of our lives through meeting our deep desires and cultivating virtues helping us and others to flourish.

I have to admit approaching this book with both fascination, and a bit of trepidation. I was curious for how the author would demonstrate that math fosters human flourishing. And I was afraid that the book would reveal the deficit in my rusty math skills, that it would be a discussion of inside baseball, with me on the outside, as it were.

Francis Su sets us at ease from the earliest pages. He introduces us to a correspondent friend, Christopher Jackson and to Simone Weil. Jackson is in prison for armed robbery, connected with drug addiction, who won’t be released until 2033 at the earliest. Simone Weil was the younger sister of famed number theorist, André Weil. Simone Weil once said “Every being cries out to be read differently.” As it turns out, Jackson runs circles around most of us in his knowledge of advanced subjects in mathematics, and Weil loved mathematics, and more than held her own with her brother’s circle of friends.

Su’s appeal in this book is that we read others, and perhaps ourselves differently when we think of mathematics. For too long, he contends, we have left math to the whiz kids who can solve problems quickly and the eccentrics. For many of us, math is either irrelevant or a memory of shame. He contends we are all mathematicians, and all teachers of math and invites us to read ourselves, others, and the practice of mathematics differently.

His contention is that mathematics fosters human flourishing. We flourish as we develop certain virtues, and our pursuit of virtues is aroused by basic desires or longings. Longings like that of exploration, such as how to explain the gaps in the rings of Saturn. Or the longing for meaning, such as the stories we may use to make sense of the Pythagorean theorem. There is play, particularly as we explore the interesting patterns we find in math, engaging in inductive inquiry, and deductive reasoning to explain what we find. We come up with shortcuts, and try to figure out why they work. We long for beauty, and discover it in the sensory beauty of a fractal, the wondrous beauty of an elegant equation, the insightful beauty of the dualities in math (multiplication and division, sine and cosine), and the transcendent beauty when we realize that math can explain the world. We long for permanence and truth and find these in mathematical ideas that do not change.

Math cultivates virtue as we struggle. Su gives the lie to the whiz kid who comes up with the quick solution. Real creativity in math involves struggle, the failed solutions that lead to a novel way of seeing the problem that yields the solution. Math’s power may be coercive or creative. The creative use of power multiplies math’s power in the lives of others rather than showing oneself to be powerful. Math can be used to include or exclude and may be a source of either justice or injustice. Math can be a source of freedom–particularly if it is coupled with justice and extend welcome to all. When this happens, mathematics creates good communities, not ones that exclude those who don’t “measure up.” Math sees everyone as capable of discovery in math. Suddenly, you have a group of people engaged in joyous discovery.

Above all, Su believes that love is the ultimate virtue in math as in all things. This is not merely the love of math, but the love of people that believes “that you and every person in your life can flourish in mathematics.” One of the beauties of this book is that Su models this in the respectful way he engages Christopher’s questions and desire to learn math. It is evident that he sought Christopher’s advice on the book, and includes in each chapter one of Christopher’s reflections. At the end of the epilogue, an interaction between the author and Christopher, Su mentions that Christopher will share in the book’s royalties.

When you read this book, I suspect you will agree that Francis Su is the math teacher we all wish we had. He reminded me of one high school teacher, Mr. Erickson, who made math fun, and was not above engaging in dialogues with his invisible friend Harvey during class. Su helps us to discover the fun in math by including math puzzles in each chapter. He offers hints or solutions to each in the back, but I was reminded of the math puzzles I used to delight solving in Mr. Erickson’s class, and as a kid. I found myself wanting to find some math books and brush up my math. He got me curious about the mathematical realities I could do well to pay more attention to, like trying to make sense out of the analytics on a website and what the patterns mean, or the correlation between voting percentages and incarceration patterns.

I wonder if others will have this reaction and if in fact that is the author’s intent. Even teachers can lose their “first love” of math, and lose touch with the desires that math aroused in their lives. Might renewal come with remembering, remembering ourselves as we consider the student before us,  allowing that remembering to shape how we teach? Su does us a valuable service in awakening us to the ways we flourish through math, motivating us to share with others the abundance we have discovered, even as Christopher now teaches other inmates the math he has learned, flourishing even more as he does so.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.